Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The Universe, Crisp and Clear

17.06.2010
The next generation of adaptive optics has arrived at the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona, providing astronomers with a new level of image sharpness surpassing that of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The next generation of adaptive optics has arrived at the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona, providing astronomers with a new level of image sharpness never before seen.

Developed in a collaboration between Italy's Arcetri Observatory of the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica, or INAF, and the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory, this technology represents a remarkable step forward for astronomy.

"This is an incredibly exciting time as this new adaptive optics system allows us to achieve our potential as the world's most powerful optical telescope," said Richard Green, director of the LBT. "The successful results show that the next generation of astronomy has arrived, while providing a glimpse of the awesome potential the LBT will be capable of for years to come."

Until relatively recently, ground-based telescopes had to live with wavefront distortion caused by the Earth's atmosphere that significantly blurred the images of distant objects (this is why stars appear to twinkle to the human eye). While there have been advancements in adaptive optics technology to correct atmospheric blurring, the LBT's innovative system takes this concept to a new level.

This success was achieved through the combination of several innovative technologies. The first is the secondary mirror, which was designed from the start to be a main component of the LBT rather than an additional element as on other telescopes. The concave secondary mirror is .91 meters in diameter (3 feet) and only 1.6 millimeters thick.

The mirror is so thin and pliable that it can easily be manipulated by actuators pushing on 672 tiny magnets glued to the back of the mirror, which offers far greater flexibility and accuracy than previous systems on other telescopes. An innovative "pyramid" sensor detects atmospheric distortions and manipulates the mirror in real time to cancel out the blurring, allowing the telescope to literally see as clear as if there were no atmosphere.

Incredibly, the mirror is capable of making adjustments every one thousandth of a second, with accuracy to better than 10 nanometers (a nanometer is one millionth the size of a millimeter).

In closed-dome tests beginning May 12 and sky tests every night since May 25, astronomer Simone Esposito and his INAF team tested the new device, achieving exceptional results.

The LBT's adaptive optics system, called the First Light Adaptive Optics system, or FLAO, immediately outperformed all other comparable systems, delivering an image quality greater than three times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope using just one of the LBT's two 8.4 meter mirrors. When the adaptive optics are in place for both mirrors and their light is combined appropriately, it is expected that the LBT will achieve image sharpness 10 times that of the Hubble.

The index of the perfection of image quality is known as the Strehl Ratio, with a ratio of 100 percent equivalent to an absolutely perfect image. Without adaptive optics, the ratio for ground-based telescopes is less than 1 percent. The adaptive optics systems on other major telescopes today improve image quality up to about 30 percent to 50 percent in the near-infrared wavelengths where the testing was conducted.

In the initial testing phase, the LBT's adaptive optics system has been able to achieve unprecedented Strehl Ratio of 60 to 80 percent, a nearly two-thirds improvement in image sharpness over other existing systems.

The results exceeded all expectations and were so precise the testing team had difficulty believing its findings. However, testing has continued since the system was first put on the sky on May 25, and the LBT's adaptive optics have functioned flawlessly and achieved peak Strehl Ratios of 82 to 84 percent.

"The results on the first night were so extraordinary that we thought it might be a fluke, but every night since the adaptive optics have continued to exceed all expectations. These results were achieved using only one of LBT's mirrors. Imagine the potential when we have adaptive optics on both of LBT's giant eyes," Esposito said.

More images from the adaptive optics system are available at the LBT Observatory website.

Development of the LBT's adaptive optics system took longer than a decade through an international collaboration. INAF, in particular the Arcetri Observatory, conceived the instrument design and developed the electro-mechanical system, while the University of Arizona Mirror Lab created the optical elements, and the Italian companies Microgate and ADS International engineered several components.

A prototype system was previously installed on the Multiple Mirror Telescope, or MMT, at Mt. Hopkins, Ariz. The MMT system uses roughly half the number of actuators as the LBT's final version, but it demonstrated the viability of the design. The LBT's infrared test camera, which produced the accompanying images, was a joint development of INAF in Bologna and the MPIA in Heidelberg.

"This has been a tremendous success for INAF and all of the partners in the LBT," said Piero Salinari, research director at the Arcetri Observatory, INAF. "After more than a decade and with so much care and effort having gone into this project, it is really rewarding to see it succeed so astoundingly."

The $120 million LBT on Mount Graham utilizes two giant 8.4 meter mirrors and with the new adaptive optics the telescope will have the resolution of a 22.8-meter, or approximately 75-foot telescope. The new adaptive optics will enable versatile instruments such as the near-infrared camera spectrometer, which allows astronomers to penetrate interstellar dust clouds and reveal the secrets of the youngest and most distant galaxies, to achieve their full potential on the LBT.

The LBT is an international collaboration among institutions in the U.S., Italy and Germany. The LBT Corporation partners are:

The University of Arizona on behalf of the Arizona university system

Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica, Italy
LBT Beteiligungsgesellschaft, Germany, representing the Max Planck Society, the Astrophysical Institute Potsdam, and Heidelberg University

The Ohio State University
The Research Corporation, on behalf of The University of Notre Dame, University of Minnesota and University of Virginia
CONTACTS:
Richard Green, Large Binocular Telescope Observatory
(520-626-7088; rgreen@as.arizona.edu)
Jennifer Fitzenberger, University Communications
(520-621-9017; jfitzen@email.arizona.edu)

Jennifer Fitzenberger | University of Arizona
Further information:
http://www.arizona.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Scientists propose synestia, a new type of planetary object
23.05.2017 | University of California - Davis

nachricht Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence
23.05.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

Im Focus: Using graphene to create quantum bits

In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.

In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...

Im Focus: Bacteria harness the lotus effect to protect themselves

Biofilms: Researchers find the causes of water-repelling properties

Dental plaque and the viscous brown slime in drainpipes are two familiar examples of bacterial biofilms. Removing such bacterial depositions from surfaces is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

Innovation 4.0: Shaping a humane fourth industrial revolution

17.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientists propose synestia, a new type of planetary object

23.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Zap! Graphene is bad news for bacteria

23.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Medical gamma-ray camera is now palm-sized

23.05.2017 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>